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Ferguson v. Wallace-Ferguson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

May 10, 2018

Alexander Dermaine Ferguson, Plaintiff and Appellant
Samantha Wallace-Ferguson, k/n/a Samantha Oliver, Defendant and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable John A. Thelen, Judge.

          Timothy C. Lamb, Grand Forks, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant.

          Jacey L. Johnston, Grand Forks, N.D., for defendant and appellee; submitted on brief.



         [¶ 1] Alexander Ferguson appeals from a fourth amended judgment increasing his child support obligation. We conclude the district court retained jurisdiction to modify his child support obligation under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act ("UIFSA"), as enacted in N.D.C.C. ch. 14-12.2. We further conclude the court did not err in determining his child support obligation. We affirm.


         [¶ 2] At times relevant to these proceeding, Alexander Ferguson and Samantha Wallace-Ferguson, now known as Samantha Oliver, were active members in the United States military. The parties divorced while they both were stationed in Germany in 2011. In their German divorce decree Wallace-Ferguson received primary custody of their minor child, born in 2009. In 2012, after Ferguson had been stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the parties' divorce decree was registered in the district court in Grand Forks. Wallace-Ferguson was also later stationed in Turkey.

         [¶ 3] In 2012 and 2013, the district court in North Dakota entered amended judgments, addressing issues of parenting rights and responsibilities and child support. Wallace-Ferguson was subsequently stationed in Texas. In July 2016, Ferguson was reassigned to a military base in South Korea (Republic of Korea). On November 17, 2016, Wallace-Ferguson moved the court to amend the judgment to address transporting the child for parenting time. On December 29, 2016, she filed another motion in the North Dakota court seeking to modify Ferguson's child support obligation. In response Ferguson requested the court to transfer jurisdiction to Texas for Wallace-Ferguson's pending motion to modify child support. Ferguson contended the court no longer had jurisdiction because he had moved out of the state and neither Wallace-Ferguson nor their child lived in North Dakota.

         [¶ 4] After a January 30, 2017 hearing, the district court entered a third amended judgment modifying language regarding transporting the child for parenting time. In February 2017, the court also entered an order retaining jurisdiction over the matter. Ferguson moved the court to reconsider its decision, again asserting a lack of jurisdiction, which the court denied. On April 13, 2017, the court held a hearing on Wallace-Ferguson's motion to review child support. Both Ferguson and Wallace-Ferguson testified telephonically at the hearing and presented evidence. The court subsequently entered a fourth amended judgment increasing Ferguson's child support obligation.


         [¶ 5] Ferguson argues the district court erred in exercising continuing, exclusive jurisdiction in this case since he has moved from North Dakota and neither Wallace-Ferguson nor the minor child reside in the state. He contends the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under N.D.C.C. § 14-12.2-08 [UIFSA § 205 (2008)] to modify his child support obligation.

         [¶ 6] UIFSA is a uniform law first approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in 1992, and revised in 1996, 2001, and 2008. See Smith v. Baumgartner, 2003 ND 120, ¶ 15, 665 N.W.2d 12; 9 U.L.A. (pt. 1B) 150-57 (2017 Cum. Supp.). UIFSA governs, among other things, the procedures for establishing, enforcing, and modifying child support orders when more than one state is involved. Smith, at ¶ 15. In 1995, North Dakota enacted UIFSA, codified at N.D.C.C. ch. 14-12.2, to replace the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act ("RURESA"). See Smith, at ¶ 16; Henderson v. Henderson, 1999 ND 156, ¶ 8 n.1, 598 N.W.2d 490; see also 1995 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 157; 1997 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 152; 2009 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 152. "Under UIFSA, the possibility of multiple child support orders has been replaced by the concept of a single controlling order under the court's continuing exclusive jurisdiction." Henderson, at ¶ 8 n.1; see N.D.C.C. §§ 14-12.2-07 through 14-12.2-10. All fifty states have enacted some form of UIFSA. Smith, at ¶ 15; see Annot., Construction and Application of Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, 90 A.L.R.5th 1 (2001).

         [¶ 7] To address Ferguson's jurisdictional argument, we construe the 2008 version of UIFSA, which North Dakota adopted in 2009, but became effective July 1, 2015. See 2009 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 152, § 73 ("This Act becomes effective on the date the department of human services certifies to the legislative council that the Hague convention on the international recovery of child support and other forms of family maintenance is ratified and that the United States deposited its instrument of ratification."); 2015 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 126, § 13 (amending section 73 to state: "This Act becomes effective on July 1, 2015."). Our standard for construing statutes is well established:

Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which is fully reviewable on appeal. Nelson v. Johnson, 2010 ND 23, ¶ 12, 778 N.W.2d 773. The primary purpose of statutory interpretation is to determine the intention of the legislation. In re Estate of Elken, 2007 ND 107, ¶ 7, 735 N.W.2d 842. Words in a statute are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, unless defined by statute or unless a contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02. If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, "the letter of [the statute] is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit." N.D.C.C. § 1-02-05. If the language of the statute is ambiguous, however, a court may resort to extrinsic aids to interpret the statute. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-39.

Zajac v. Traill Cty. Water Res. Dist., 2016 ND 134, ¶ 6, 881 N.W.2d 666.

         [¶ 8] Statutes are to be construed as a whole and harmonized to give meaning to related provisions. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-07. "We interpret uniform laws in a uniform manner, and we may seek guidance from decisions in other states which have interpreted similar provisions in a uniform law." Matter of Bradley K. Brakke Trust, 2017 ND 34, ¶ 12, 890 N.W.2d 549 (quoting In re Estate of Allmaras, 2007 ND 130, ¶ 13, 737 N.W.2d 612); see also N.D.C.C. § 1-02-13 (uniform laws construed to effectuate general purpose to make uniform the laws of enacting states). "When we interpret and apply provisions in a uniform law, we may look to official editorial board comments for guidance." Brakke Trust, at ¶ 12 (citing In re Estate of Gleeson, 2002 ND 211, ¶ 7, 655 N.W.2d 69).

         [¶ 9] Section 14-12.2-08, N.D.C.C. [UIFSA § 205 (2008)], provides for a district court's continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify a child support order, stating in relevant part:

1. A tribunal of this state that has issued a child support order consistent with the law of this state has and shall exercise continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to modify its child support order if the order is the controlling order and:
a. At the time of the filing of a request for modification this state is the residence of the obligor, the individual obligee, or the child for whose benefit the support order is issued; or
b. Even if this state is not the residence of the obligor, the individual obligee, or the child for whose benefit the support order is issued, the parties consent in a record or in open court that the tribunal of this state may ...

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